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By Roberta Avery - back to list
COLLINGWOOD – Tesoro is the sort of restaurant that you usually find in the ethnic neighbourhoods of a big city. Often run by people from the "old country" these treasures tucked in on an out-of-the-way street, are as authentic as you can get. The food is rich in flavour and the atmosphere makes you feel that you've traveled thousands of miles instead of just around the corner.
Tesoro owners Joelle and Winston Millar aren't from the old country, but such restaurants in Little Italy in the College Street area of Toronto inspired them.
"I fell in love with the romance of it all," says Joelle.
And as for Collingwood, it was love at first sight.
Five years ago friends invited them up to Collingwood for lunch. They left with a real estate book and one month later they had sold their Toronto home and bought a house in Collingwood and were looking around for business opportunities.
Joelle had worked in makeup in the film industry for the previous 10 years, but before that she had worked as bartender and as a restaurant manager.
"They says that one of the secrets to success in business is to stick to what you know, and I know the restaurant industry," says Joelle.
They found the perfect location for their restaurant in Old Schoolhouse Lane in downtown Collingwood.
The former office building was in the heart of it all, yet tucked away perfectly so that the restaurant tables could spill over into the lane just like they do in Europe.
The building was big enough not to appear cramped, but not so cavernously large that you have to shout to be heard.
Starting with a blank canvas, Joelle and Winston were able to design a restaurant that had the exact casual and chic atmosphere they wanted. There's an open kitchen where Chef Leona Penyige cooks up wonderful food and a bar area where the bright red stools have backs on them so that you feel comfortable if you decide to eat at the bar. Many of the tables are cozy booths that are perfect for a romantic dinner and outside the flower boxes – tended by Joelle's parents who also moved up to Collingwood – are a riot of colour. Winston, who can be found behind the bar on weekends, designs the menus.
My husband John and I invited our son Paul and his wife Lisa to join us for dinner on the Monday of a long weekend when we thought things would be quiet at Tesoro. We were wrong, Tesoro was full of happy diners and the atmosphere was electric.
"When the tourists go home, the local people come," says Joelle.
The staff was obviously used to handling a busy evening as service was friendly and efficient and everything was perfectly timed.
John is a mushroom lover, so couldn't resist the warm funghi salad with oyster mushrooms baked with parmigiano, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and garlic served on arugula salad. The blend of flavours complemented the earthy flavour of the mushrooms perfectly.
Paul tried the carpaccio and although hesitant at first about eating the blood red air-cured beef tenderloin enjoyed the delicate flavour of the melt in your mouth tender beef.
Lisa and I shared the salad special of mixed greens with organic chicken, green apple, strawberries, pecans and feta cheese tossed in an interested mango mint dressing that was sweet without being sickly. The salad was big enough that it would have made a meal for one, so there was plenty to share.
For a main course Lisa chose the traditional creamy fettuccini tossed with bacon, peas, sweet red onion and mushrooms, I stole a little just to sample and found it to be delicious. The fettucini was cooked el dente of course – firm enough not to be soggy – and the made from scratch sauce was rich and creamy. John had the baked Atlantic salmon roulade, which was wrapped in proscuitto and filled with Gorgonzola. This dish can be tricky to cook as it takes a lot of skill to cook the fish without drying out the proscuitto, but like everything we tasted at Tesoro, it was perfect. The salmon was served with fresh crisp green beans and homemade ricotta and pesto gnocchi tossed with olive oil and garlic.
Paul and I tried the lasagna, which is a long time family favourite, but lasagna at Tesoro is in a class of its own. It's described on the menu as towering and often such menu descriptions are superlatives and not accurate, but the lasagna at Tesoro is tall – really tall. It is layered with meat, ricotta cheese, roasted red peppers and spinach and is baked in Tesoro's own scrumptious roma sauce. I can truly say it was the best lasagna I have ever eaten. I was delighted to hear that you can buy it at Mercato – Tesoro's frozen food market next door for just $7, a real bargain when you consider that the portion is the same as served in the restaurant, which in itself is good value for $15.95.
I wanted to leave room for dessert so I asked for half my lasagna to be packed up to take home and it made a wonderful lunch the next day.
I was glad I did, as dessert at Tesoro shouldn't be missed. Lisa had the ice cream, which is a real treat as its made right at the restaurant and has a full rich flavour, John chose the tartufo, a perfectly formed ball of three different ice creams rolled in cocoa powder. Paul had the carrot cake, which was so very rich and decadent that I felt virtuous eating the tiramisu – a light sponge and topped with a fluffy coffee flavoured custard.
We had to drive that night so we settled for wine by the glass. Usually restaurants don't sell a sparkling wine by the glass, so although I was having a meaty lasagna, I was pleased to be able to chose a Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene that was offered for just $7.25 a glass.
Bucking tradition John chose a merlot for $62.5 a glass although he was having fish.
A three -course dinner for two including a glass of wine each and tax and tip does come to around $100. But portions are big enough and the casual atmosphere so friendly that it is the sort of place where you could drop by after work and just enjoy a main course and leave with change from $20.
Tesoro is open 11am. to 10 p.m Monday to Saturday and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
Phone 1-705-444-9230 for reservations.
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